Becky seemed to work more diligently on her family picture than any of her other kindergarten classmates. She wanted it to be perfect. After all, this was going to be imprinted on a plate, taken home, and cherished forever. With the focus of a surgeon, Becky carefully drew a picture of herself beside her mom and the family dog. She included every detail, even drawing the little baby inside Mom’s belly. In Becky’s mind, the picture was complete.
The drawing was soon etched onto the plate, and Becky proudly took it home. There was only one problem: Becky’s parents were not divorced. Becky’s mother wasn’t a single mom. “But that’s how she saw our family,” her father Ron says. “I was working so many hours that I wasn’t even in the picture.”
Twenty-five years later, Ron still has that plate. It reminds him that dads need to be intentional about being involved in the lives of their children.
Get in the picture
Do you want to be in the picture with your kids? Don’t fall for the lie that says they’ll naturally grow up to love the Lord with or without your involvement. A father’s positive presence and parental participation are huge factors in raising children who love the Lord.
If you’re a dad reading this book instead of watching ESPN or trading stocks on the internet, good for you. If you’re a mom whose husband is always glued to the TV, the computer, or the work he’s brought home from the office, encourage him to read this.
Most fathers want to be involved. We want to be good role models and positive influences in our children’s lives. We want to affirm and support and love our kids. We just don’t always know how.
All dads feel a great deal of pressure. You probably have moments when you feel you are totally in over your head, nights when you can’t draw an easy breath. Here’s something you might want to know: Those feelings of inadequacy are a relief to the Lord. A know-it-all attitude gets in the way of God’s work, but a recognition of your need for help opens the door for the Lord to step in.
There’s no map or GPS for parenthood; you might as well admit that, sooner or later, you’re going to have to ask for directions.
Gifts your kids need from you
Dads, there are some things only you can give your kids. And I’m not talking about basketball shoes or cell phones or bigger allowances or expensive vacations. These are gifts much more important than that—and much more valuable. Give your children these gifts, and you will reap the benefits for years to come. Withhold them, and you take the chance of watching helplessly as they head down the wrong road.
Gift #1: Love their mom
Remember how it felt when you were dating, before you got married, before the kids came along? Remember how your heart raced when she came into the room? Remember how desperate you were to get her attention? You spent hours thinking about her, writing notes and letters and maybe even poems, trying to sweep her off her feet and show her how you cared.
Do it again.
Communicate regularly and lovingly with your wife—especially in front of the children. Keep your disputes or arguments private. Take an interest in her interests, do unexpected things for her, treat her the way you did when you were pursuing her. You may think that romancing your wife has little to do with fatherhood, but it is key to helping your children feel safe and loved.
Block out a night once or twice a month for a date night with your wife—just the two of you. I know, I know. You think you’re too busy or it’s too expensive. But it’s an investment you can’t afford not to make. If you have small children and can’t pay a babysitter, find another couple and trade off watching each other’s children once a month. Trust me, it will breathe life into the two of you. Both you and your children will benefit.
When our kids were very young, Beth and I would be getting ready for a date night. I’d start speaking in glowing terms to the kids about my plans for the night. They would run back and forth reporting to Beth any secret nuggets about the activities of the evening. Eventually, one of them would look up at me and beg, “Can I go with you?”
My answer was always the same: “No way. I have a date with the most beautiful woman in the world and you are not invited.”
Does that sound cold or unloving? It wasn’t. It was a blessing, a benediction. It gave each of them just what they needed—a sense of security and assurance. Later that night when the babysitter would tuck them into bed, they would fall asleep knowing, “My mommy loves my daddy, and my daddy loves my mommy.”
When you are a child, that’s a pretty healthy way to end your day.
Love your wife and show it. The best way to be a good father is to be a good husband.
Gift #2: Teach your kids respect
Part of the growing-up process is to test boundaries: to see how much you can get away with; to see where the lines are drawn. Your children will push back. You need to be clear about what’s expected of them. Teaching them respect begins in the early years, and it must be reinforced by both parents.
Don’t believe it? See how fast your preschooler will go ask Daddy when Mommy says no.
Teach them simple lessons to undergird the importance of respect:
- Look people in the eyes when you speak to them.
- The universe doesn’t revolve around you.
- Express thanks with a grateful heart.
- Dive in and serve.
- Respond with obedience the first time you’re asked.
- Treat your mother with respect and honor.
Parents can be great at making excuses for their children’s lack of respect: “She’s shy,” “He didn’t get much sleep last night,” or “He’s only thrown a temper tantrum twice this morning—so he’s improving.”
Well, maybe that’s all true, but the bottom line is, you get what you expect. Set the bar high, and when they don’t rise to it, administer appropriate consequences. Inherently your children want to please you, so start early teaching them respect for themselves, for others, for property, and for God.
Dad, show some backbone. You may be able to stand up to the board of directors of your $50-million company, but that won’t count for much if you can’t stand up to your 7-year-old when he back talks his mother, or to your teenage daughter when she starts to leave the house wearing something inappropriate.
Pour into your son a respect for the opposite sex: Show basic courtesy and honor to a female of any age. You are his model. Show him by example how women should be treated. Teach your daughter never to accept disrespectful or controlling attitudes. If she sees gentleness and respect in you, she won’t tolerate being mistreated by boys.
Gift #3: Encourage your kids
Your children need to know that you are in their corner. We are all busy and pulled in a lot of directions, but when your son or daughter takes the stage, the court, or the field, that glance into the crowd is a subtle search for significance. Your absence deflates them. Your presence shouts that they have value. They can pick your voice out of a crowd with the precision of a piano tuner.
In his book You Have What It Takes, Christian author John Eldredge says, “Your son or daughter, no matter how old, will always want and need to hear those words from you, ‘You have what it takes … You are worth fighting for.'”
Your positive comments and attitude help shape your children’s self-esteem. Affirm them. Let them know you’re proud. Let your daughter know that you think she’s beautiful and smart, talented and capable. Catch your son doing something right and commend him in front of others.
Dads play a key role in determining whether children venture outside their comfort zone or fearfully settle for a status quo existence. Your genuine affirmation provides a safety net for taking risks and stretching their confidence.
Dads, be encouraged. You can do this. You really can … Just not on your own. Invite the Lord and your wife into the equation. From this point forward, things can be different. Things can be better.
Check your priorities. Be intentional.
Slow down. Step up.
Get in the picture.
When you look back years from now, both you and your family will be glad you did.
Adapted excerpt from Raising Your Kids to Love the Lord by David Stone. Copyright © 2012. Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.